03 Jul 2018

Transnational marriage in Yiwu: Tensions over money

Talk at LMU Munich, Oettingenstr. 67, room 115, 18–20

Saheira Haliel, University of Sussex


This paper examines the disputes over income distribution in transnational households in Yiwu. Yiwu, the world’s largest wholesale market for small commodities, is located in China and has witnessed rapidly increasing numbers of transnational marriages in the last two decades. Most husbands in such households are Muslim traders from African, Arabic and south-Asian countries. The majority of wives are migrants from other parts of China. While such marriage brings opportunities to the couple, challenges also exist. However, in a trading context, existing scholarship either stresses resource exchange in transnational marriages (e.g Farrer 2008, Marsden and Ibañez-Tirado 2015) or the challenges resulting from state visa regulation policy (e.g. Lan 2015, Grillot 2012). Little attention has been paid to the material aspects of family life, such as income, which constitute the major concerns of their daily life and impact both emotional and relational dimensions within and beyond couples’ intimate relationships.

Based on six months of field research, I will analyse the narratives of couples in transnational households and reveal how money, intimate relations, kinship and friendship ties, cultural gaps, trade and global markets intertwine to bring challenges to married life. I argue three things. First, behind a couple’s different attitudes towards money are differences in values and perceptions of kinship support, gender roles, consumption, and family orientations. Second, the sense of uncertainties resulting from the socio-economic and political constrains are equally attributed to the disputes over money in such households. Third, the neoliberal governance of population and new space of consumerism in China, together with particular position of Yiwu as a world’s small commodity centre all constitute important elements for concerns over income in such households.

About the speaker

Dr. Saheira Haliel (Heila Sha) is a postdoc researcher at Anthropology Department of University of Sussex. Her main research interests include marriage, gender, aging and care, migration and trading networks. She currently works on a project funded by the European Commission – “Yiwu: Trust, Global Traders and Commodities in a Chinese International City”. Her main focus in the research group includes transnational marriages between Chinese women and foreign traders; Sino-Kazakhstan trading networks based on the fieldwork conducted in Yiwu – in the eastern province of Zhejiang and Xinjiang province in 2016 and 2017; and Chinese Muslim women’s interaction with foreign Muslim traders through employment. Based on her Ph.D thesis at Max-Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany, Dr. Haliel has recently published her book, titled “Care and Aging in Northwest China”.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
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